Bauer Family Law - Dependency Proceedings
What is a dependency proceeding?
A dependency proceeding is a case brought before the Court based on allegations of abuse,
abandonment and/or neglect of a child. The term “dependency” is based on the idea of a child being
dependent on the State or Court to provide help and services.
What does abuse, abandonment and neglect mean?
- “Abuse” means any willful or threatened act that results in any physical, mental or sexual injury or
harm that causes or is likely to cause the child’s physical, mental or emotional health to be
- “Abandonment” means a parent or person responsible for taking care of the child, although able to do
so, does not provide for the child’s care and support and makes no effort to communicate with the
- “Neglect” means that a child does not receive sufficient food, shelter, clothing or medical treatment or
that a child is permitted to live in an environment when such deprivation or environment causes the
child’s physical, mental, or emotional health to be significantly impaired or to be in danger of being
How does a dependency proceeding start?
Anyone who has knowledge of a child being or at risk of being abused, abandoned or neglected can
initiate a dependency proceeding. Usually, a report is made to the Department of Children & Families
(DCF) or law enforcement to start this kind of proceeding. DCF will investigate the allegations and make
a decision on whether to provide services to stabilize the family so the child can remain in the home or
remove the child and order services for the child and family. Although DCF files the majority of
dependency actions, anyone can file a dependency petition.
Who is involved in these types of proceedings?
Parties involved in these types of proceedings usually include the Judge, a lawyer for DCF, the social
service case manager, the parents/custodian, a Guardian Ad Litem and any other agency that may be
providing services. The Court may also appoint a lawyer to the parent/ custodian if there is proof that
he/she cannot afford to hire one. Otherwise, any person involved may choose to hire a lawyer on their
Who is the Guardian Ad Litem?
A Guardian Ad Litem is a person who is appointed by the Judge to protect the best interests of the child.
The Guardian Ad Litem does not work for DCF. The duties of the Guardian Ad Litem are to preserve the
child’s safety and emotional well-being; assist in finding a stable and nurturing home environment; and
protect the child from further harm. The Guardian Ad Litem files a written report with the Judge as to
what they feel is best for the child regarding the case or plan for the family. Also, the Guardian Ad Litem
appears in court to give input when needed.
What does “dependency” mean?
For this purpose, the term “dependency” means that the child is dependent on the Court’s involvement
and direction to ensure a safe, stable and permanent home for him or her once a petition alleging facts
about the need for services has been filed. The term indicates that without the Court’s involvement, the
issues cannot be resolved otherwise. Dependency cases are civil in nature. They are also considered
non-public and have very strict rules regarding confidentiality.
How does a hearing in front of the Judge get started regarding a dependency case?
Typically, an investigation begins once a report is received by DCF or law enforcement that alleges
abuse, abandonment or neglect of a minor child. The investigation will determine whether there is a
need to provide services to ensure the safety of the child in the home or if the child must be removed
from the care of the parent/custodian and placed in the temporary custody of DCF for shelter care. If the
child is removed, a shelter hearing will be held within 24 hours. The investigator or child welfare worker
will advise where and when the shelter hearing will occur.
What is a shelter hearing?
A shelter hearing will occur within 24 hours of a child’s removal from his or her parent/custodian. Upon
removal, someone from child welfare services will inform the parent/ custodian where and when this
hearing will occur. At this hearing, the Judge will determine if the child will continue to remain in shelter
care to ensure the child’s safety. Shelter placement may be with a relative, a non-relative or at a
licensed DCF home/facility. The parent/custodian will be provided with an attorney if he/she cannot afford
to hire one. A Guardian Ad Litem may be appointed to represent the best interest of the child. Any other
hearings regarding the issues in the case may be determined at this time. The next hearing will most
likely be an “arraignment” hearing. Prior to the arraignment date, DCF will file a Petition for Dependency
that states the allegations that brought the case before the Court.
What is an arraignment hearing?
An arraignment hearing is when the parent/custodian has an opportunity to answer the allegations
contained in the dependency petition. This allows the Court to read and consider the allegations while
determining issues like custody, visitation, counseling or any other needs that should be addressed at
this time. If not already in place, an attorney may be appointed to the parent at this time. There are
different ways a parent/custodian may answer the allegations in the petition.
Ways to answer to the dependency petition at an arraignment hearing:
- Admit: Admits the allegations within the dependency petition.
- Consent: Does not admit or deny the allegations within the dependency petition but allows the Court
to be involved in the decisions made for the family and to go forward with a case plan.
- Deny: Denies the allegations within the dependency petition.
What happens if I admit or consent to the allegations in the dependency petition?
If a parent/custodian admits or consents to the dependency allegations, the Court will typically direct
DCF to prepare a Case Plan to determine the steps needed for the family to resolve the issues that
brought the case before the Judge. The case will then be set for a “disposition” hearing.
What happens if I deny the allegations in the dependency petition?
If the allegations are denied, DCF will have to prove the allegations against the parent/custodian and
the parent/custodian will have to defend the allegations. A trial will be held, and all parties involved will
have a chance to call witnesses to prove their side of the case. If a denial is entered, the case most
likely will be set for “pre-adjudicatory” (pre-trial) and “adjudicatory” (trial) hearings.
What is an adjudicatory hearing?
An adjudicatory hearing is the same thing as a trial. It is a hearing where witnesses may be called to
testify about the allegations in the case. There is no jury. The Judge will rule on the finding of
dependency. The court may adjudicate the child to be a dependent child or withhold adjudication. In
either instance, the case will then proceed to a disposition hearing. If the Court finds that the allegations
have not been proven, the case may be dismissed.
What is a disposition hearing?
A disposition hearing is when the Judge considers the recommendations by DCF for the family to
ensure a safe and stable environment for the child. It is the time where a formal order is made
containing the findings by the Judge. At this point, DCF will provide a “case plan” or plan for the paren(s)
to follow in order to alleviate the need for services by DCF and the Court. If the case plan is not in place
at this time, it will be shortly. At this hearing, the Judge may also advise of the need for a future “judicial
review” hearing and “permanency” hearing if appropriate.
What is a judicial review hearing?
The Court will hold a judicial review hearing a few months after the disposition in the case. The judicial
review is held so the Judge can get an update on the case, review the placement and see how the child
is doing, evaluate what services are being provided by DCF and determine if everyone involved is doing
what they are supposed to do as agreed upon in the case plan. There may be another future judicial
review hearing set at this time.
What is a permanency hearing?
The goal of dependency proceedings is to protect and ensure safety to children, assist families in
resolving the problems that brought the case before the Judge and establish a permanent resolution
and placement for any child involved in this type of case. The intent is for a permanency goal to be
established and ordered within one year of a child’s removal from a parent/custodian. Permanency may
mean reunification, long-term custody with another caregiver, or foster care, and in some cases,
termination of the parents’ rights and adoption.
What is mediation?
If the Judge sends you to mediation, you most likely have denied the allegations in the petition against
you. Mediation is a chance for all of the people involved in the case to sit down with a neutral third
person, called a mediator, and try and come up with an agreement that is mutually acceptable and
voluntary by all parties. It offers you a chance to discuss your options if you should agree to services.
The contents of what will be in the case plan will be discussed, and this discussion and plan will occur
based on what is in the best interest of the child. Once the mediation is complete, the mediator will file a
report on the overall outcome of the mediation. In some instances, DCF may hold a “Case Planning
Conference”. This is basically the same as a mediation however a certified mediator is not involved. It
usually involves just the parties in the case and is set up to discuss and develop a resolution so you
may begin working on assigned tasks as quickly as possible. Any discussions that occur during a
mediation or case planning conference are private and only those areas written in your agreement or
plan are disclosed.
What is a case plan?
During the dependency process, DCF, the lawyers in the case and the parent/custodian will have an
opportunity to discuss a plan or written agreement as to the tasks that need to be completed before the
Court and DCF withdraw their involvement in the case. The case plan spells out what is expected from
all of the parties, including the parent/custodian, child, DCF, Guardian Ad Litem, and any temporary
custodian. A case plan puts everyone on notice as to what is required and by whom. The terms of the
plan are usually negotiated face-to-face with everyone involved in the case. The agreement will address
what tasks need to be met, time frames and other issues like visitation. The Judge will review the case
plan and make decisions on any areas of disagreement. If you choose not to be involved in creating the
plan, the Court may approve the plan regardless of your lack of participation. Your participation in
creating the case plan is very important in resolving the issue that brought the case before the Judge.
Lack of participation could lead to a change in the goal or outcome of the case - resulting in long term
custody with someone other than the parent, termination of parental rights and possibly adoption by
What does Termination of Parental Rights mean?
In some dependency cases, DCF may file a Petition to Terminate Parental Rights (TPR). In some severe
cases, DCF may file a petition to terminate parental rights without filing a dependency petition first. The
TPR petition asks the Judge to enter an order terminating or “ending” all parent/custodian legal rights to
the child. Like a dependency petition, the parent/custodian is allowed to answer the allegations within
the petition for termination of parental rights and hearings will occur requiring DCF to prove the
allegations prior to an order being entered. In some cases, if termination of parental rights occurs, the
child may be placed or remain in long-term care with a relative or non-relative, placed in foster care or
considered for adoption. Once an order terminating parental rights has been entered, the person who it
is entered against may forever lose any right to communicate, visit, or be responsible for the child.
Like many issues in the child welfare system, termination of parental rights proceedings are very
complex. Because of the difficult nature of these cases, this guide cannot address each and every
scenario and court process. If you are involved in a termination proceeding, you should seek legal
advice if at any time you feel you need it. In proceedings involving termination of parental rights, a lawyer
will automatically be appointed to represent you if you cannot afford one.
What services are available to me through DCF?
A variety of services are available from DCF as well as from other community agencies that work with
DCF. The availability of these services and their providers vary from community to community. Often the
Court or DCF will identify problems in the family and determine what services the family needs.
Services may include:
- Food Stamps
- Medicaid Aging and Adult Services
- Employment & Training Foster Care Programs
- Voluntary Family Services
- Developmental Services
- Adoption Assistance Protective Services
- Children’s Medical Services
- Mental Health Services
- Family Counseling
- Individual Counseling
- Drug Treatment
- Anger Management
- Parenting Classes
If you need help understanding what services are included in these programs, and exactly what
services are provided in your area, contact your child welfare worker. DCF offers many of these services
to families to prevent the removal of a child from the home. Child welfare workers also provide services
to parents to help solve the problems that caused the child to be placed in foster care or out-of-home
Orlando Divorce Attorneys
Bauer Family Law
5401 South Kirkman Road
Orlando, FL 32819
Phone: (407) 926-0255
Facsimile: (407) 926-0254